Vampire Crush Page 3

"You must go to everything," Vlad snaps. "Everyone goes to everything."

For a moment Neville looks as though he might protest, but then thinks better of it. "Very well," he says, looking around the cafeteria. "Where is - "

"I do not know. I will deal with him later. Go to class."

Neville's mouth tightens, but he complies, and I'm a little disappointed that I won't get the chance to knock two interviews off at once. After he's disappeared through the cafeteria doors, Vlad turns to the two quarterbackesque boys with a look that suggests he finds Neville's attitude unbelievable. They say nothing, just respond with matching smiles. Except for a chin dimple and their hair color - one black, one a dirty blond - they're almost identical.

This is officially the creepiest clique ever. Not only do the new kids all seem to know one another, they -

No, I tell myself. No. According to Mr. Amado, my job is not to suspect, just to interview. Before Vlad has a chance to turn and talk to the other two guys, I walk up and tap his shoulder. He whips around, the suave grace from before replaced by a wary alertness. When his eyes flick down to meet mine, I notice that they are a dark gray.

"Hey! I'm Sophie," I say, holding out my hand, but he stares at it like I've just hauled my pet fish out of my pocket and suggested he touch it. When it becomes clear that he's not going to shake it, I let it go limp at my side. "Okay. Anyway, I work on our school paper, and we like to do features on all of the new students. You know, the traditional stuff: where you're from, favorite bands, what dead person you'd like to have dinner with . . ."

He snorts at this last one. God, this is embarrassing.

". . . that sort of stuff. I know it sounds boring, but if you want to pick a time, we can get it over with."

I wait. For the first time since I started this appalling introduction, he looks at me, really looks at me, from the crown of my head to the tips of my sneakers before meeting my eyes.



"No, I think not," he says politely, and gives me a cool smile before turning his back and walking toward the exit. The two giants lumber after him wordlessly.

"I'm Caroline's sister!" I call out, and then make a mental note to punch myself in the face for making the humiliation worse. But it doesn't matter; the swinging door marks this conversation as over.

My next class is around the corner, so I allow myself a few moments of post-snubbing indignation before heading for the classroom. As I'm walking to the door I give my ego a reassuring pat by telling it that I don't have to see him again. And I don't, at least not until two seconds later, when he's sitting in the front row of my English class with his long legs extended. I steel myself for a smirk, an arrogant chuckle, or some sort of recognition, but he's leaning back in his chair, alternating between absently studying his fingernails and writing in the small black journal I first saw in the auditorium. (My guess? "Today I was a total douche for no reason. The End.")

Even though I'm one of the last ones in, there's still an empty spot in the back row. It doesn't take long to figure out why. A wave of floral perfume hits me like a truck before I'm even halfway there. It's coming from the diminutive blond girl I saw leaving the cafeteria earlier, who is now sitting primly in the corner seat like the poster child for perfect posture. Of all the newbies, she wins the award for strangest outfit, having chosen a lavender floor-length skirt with a flouncing layer of gossamer ruffles and a fitted velvet jacket.

I check my chart. Good morning, Violet Martin. After Ms. Walpole passes out our semester syllabus, I make a bid for her attention. "Psst, Violet."

She continues to stare ahead, idly twisting one of her blond curls. I wait until Ms. Walpole turns to write the five steps to a good thesis statement on the board and then tap Violet's shoulder.

"Yes?" Violet says, her voice strange and airy. First-day lectures are never anything to make you stand on your desk and thump your chest, but she's achieved a new level of spaced out.

"My name is Sophie," I whisper to her cheek, "and I'm doing profiles of all the new students for the school paper. If you have a second after class maybe I could ask you a few questions?" I notice that her boots have hundreds of little black buttons and an intricate tangle of laces. "I know I'm eager to hear your fashion philosophy."

I get no response, unless you count how she fiddles with her hair and the locket around her neck. I try another tactic. "So . . . is that locket from your boyfriend?"

"No, it's not," she hisses, and then collapses into a few dainty sniffles before pulling a lace handkerchief from her bodice to dab at nonexistent tears. A few people in front of me turn around to glare, worried that the noise will get them in trouble. I am about to tell them to mind their own business when Violet's fingers clamp around my wrist.

"Can I ask you a question?" Violet asks, finally looking at me as she jerks me toward her and starts rambling in a breathy rush. "Let us say that you liked this boy. You liked him so much that you didn't care that your family and friends said that it would end badly. You think he admires you as well, so you give him everything that he could ever want. But what does he do? Does he stay with you forever? No! He ignores you and goes off to live who knows where." Her voice cracks, and she lets go of my arm to flounce back into her seat. "I am at a loss," she hiccups, holding the handkerchief to her mouth. "Do you think I should give him a lock of my hair? Maybe he is unaware that I still care."

I look up from studying the little pink crescents that her nails have left tattooed on my arm. "No, that would probably freak him out."

"Then what should I do? What should I do?"

"Um, here." I hastily pick up the wilting copy of Seventeen that someone left under my chair. Pointing to a headline on the cover, I say, "Look! 'How to Tell if Your Crush Likes You.'"

She grabs it out of my hands and flips through it wildly, mouthing the words as she reads.

"Yes, this may work," she mutters after a few seconds. "'Drool-worthy'? How repulsive. I may need some assistance with the language. Will you give me your address?" She lowers the magazine and looks at me expectantly.

"What about my cell number?"

"No. Address, please."

I'm torn - giving it to her might mean I end up with half of a "BFF" necklace and my fingers superglued into a pinkie swear. Neal, who has the desk in front of her, takes advantage of my hesitation and turns around.

"You can have my address," he says, wiggling his eyebrows in a way that is more Charlie Chaplin than leering creep, especially when you take into account that the back of his sandy hair is threatening to cowlick.

"Pardon me?" Violet says.

"My address."

"I am not entirely sure that would be proper."

"Neal, stop it," I hiss, scared that I'm going to lose all of my previous progress if we continue down this road.

He ignores me. "Has anyone ever told you that you look like an anime character?" he asks Violet. "I kind of dig it."


"Cowboy Bebop. Come over sometime and check it out."

Violet looks to me, helpless, as if genuinely confused as to what the proper response is.

"Neal, if you don't stop I will kick your pocket," I threaten.

"But - "

"I will."

Looking more befuddled than scared, Neal turns around. Partly relieved - and yet partly offended that Neal so readily accepted me as a hamster kicker - I scribble my address on a slip of paper. Really, what's the downside? If I can lure her to my house, I may be able to get her to concentrate enough to answer one or two questions.

My last class of the day is journalism, and while it's usually my favorite, the nonexistent progress on the interview front has me worried. Sure enough, Lindsay's already at Mr. Amado's desk when I get there.

"I've talked to three of them already," she boasts as Mr. Amado listens with bemused patience. She's about to say something else when she spots me lingering at the door. "Isn't this project great?"

Sure, if you're a sucker for torture. Why didn't I get the chatty ones? I slump into the front row just as Mr. Amado shoos Lindsay away from his desk to address the class.

"Most of you stopped by to see me this morning, and I think we all have a good idea of our individual responsibilities for the first issue. We go to press in two weeks, so I'm not going to bore you with my classroom rules or make you share what you did last summer. Let's get started." He points to Neal, who is busy drawing something on the back of his binder. Neal does the monthly comic strip for the paper and thinks that his class participation should end there. Mr. Amado, on the other hand, insists that he should try his hand at articles as well. Sometimes I think that their power struggles are the highlight of my life.

Mr. Amado walks over and takes a place in front of Neal's desk, tapping the corner when His Boy Friday fails to look up. "Neal, what have you found out about the missing donated blood from the Back-to-School festival?" He shoots a glance toward Lindsay. "Students worked hard to make sure there was a volunteer component this year."

"Well, there was blood . . . ," Neal starts.

Mr. Amado's eyes light up with hope. "Yes?"

". . . and now there is less blood."

Mr. Amado gives a tight smile. "You're going to need more than that for your article," he says, straining to keep his voice encouraging rather than frustrated.

Neal goes back to shading the complex design he's sketched on the back of his folder. "Isn't this something for the police?" he asks, distracted.

"I wanted you to look at it from the student's perspective, talk to the girls who manned the booth. They were there until eight that night."

"I did."


"They don't know what happened."

Mr. Amado sighs. "Just do me a favor, Neal, and dig a little deeper. Please."

Neal salutes. "Righto, Mr. Amado."

Unappeased, Mr. Amado bends down to Neal's level and starts to whisper encouraging threats, or possibly threatening encouragement. Lindsay takes the opportunity to lean over and study my closed notebook. Hers is already covered in scribbles. Editor-in-chiefly scribbles.

"So, what's your angle going to be?" she whispers. I can spot the competitive edge through the friendliness.

"Why the new students hate me."


"Never mind." The least I can do is act like I might have something to write down. I flip open my notebook and try to make conversation. "Have you met all of yours yet?"

"Almost," she says and turns the page. "Everyone except for James. Hey, do you want to maybe see a movie on Friday? There's that indie cinema on Main Street that always plays cool stuff."

"I can't," I say, still annoyed that she is beating me.

"Oh, okay. Well, maybe - "

"Mr. Amado's on his way over."

Lindsay straightens in her seat while Mr. Amado strides toward us as purposefully as one can in loafers. Crouching down, he peeks at what we've written. I put up my hand as a shield.

"So," he starts, and then holds up a finger before Lindsay can speak. "I think I have a good idea about Lindsay's progress; I'm interested in what the other half thinks."

The other half has no idea what to say. Put on the spot, I ask some of my actual questions. "Don't you think it's strange that they all seem to know one another? And think Michigan is charming?"

Mr. Amado doesn't respond at first, just gives me a look akin to the one you'd give the homeless person who stands outside the grocery store shouting that there are aliens in the bread. If his mustache had fingers, it would be wagging one at me right now. "Sophie," he says. "I thought we talked about this."

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Lindsay shooting me covert sideways glances like she was once warned not to stare directly at a loser eclipse.

"I know," I say, "but - "

"We're not investigating," he says. "We're celebrating. Try it again tomorrow."

He raps the desk and walks away, leaving me to wonder why Neal's curiosity is encouraged while mine is smashed into tiny little bits. I sink into my chair and draw circles in my notebook for the rest of the period while Lindsay rattles off all the juicy tidbits she's collected about the two boys who were hanging around Vlad in the cafeteria. Their names are Devon and Ashley - a slap in the face to their obvious aspirations to be brick walls.

"They don't speak all that much, but we managed," she says. "Do you know that they were in the circus when they were little?"

"Wait. You're telling me that they're mute circus people?" I ask, wondering if this is some great cosmic experiment: See how long it takes Sophie's head to explode if we drop her in a vat of weirdness and continue to tell her that no, the soup she's in is perfectly normal.

"Well, okay," Lindsay admits, "it's sort of different. But it's going to make a great article. Unlike Andrew Archer, who doesn't want to talk about anything but dirt bikes." She closes her notebook. "What about Vlad? He's yours, right? He seems interesting at least. A little show-offy. I can't believe Morgan let him get away with that this morning."

Me either, Lindsay. Me either.

Chapter Three

At dinner that night I am treated to "The Vlad Show." Vlad is hot. Vlad is cool. Vlad has a silver Hummer with tinted windows and he offered to drive Caroline around in it. Vlad is rich. Vlad's parents are away on business in Europe, so he has the house to himself. And yes, he's delighted that they let his friends come stay with him this semester so he wouldn't be lonely. Caroline's so excited, she's shoveling vegetables into her mouth without inspecting them first.

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